Heart rate monitors are great training tools to keep you in the zone. Whether you’re using them to improve cardiovascular conditioning or to just get a better idea of what your heart is doing, there is a heart rate monitor to suit your needs. In this piece, you’ll learn everything you need to know to find the best heart rate monitor for you.
Why Buy a Heart Rate Monitor?
- Consistent heart rate monitoring. Using a monitor, you can easily and consistently track your heart rate and get it into the zone you need for the best results. A heart rate monitor is a great tool for a variety of activities like running, swimming, cycling, and rowing.
- Save progress. Most heart rate monitors have a built-in function to save your progress. On some models, this means saving stats on the device itself. Others allow you to sync the device up to apps, websites, or fitness trackers in order to keep all your vital info in one place.
- Great for HIIT workouts. Since heart rate monitors allow you to track your heart rate easily, this benefits HIIT workouts. With a handy monitor, you can keep tabs on where your heart rate is and where it needs to be to get the results you want.
- Good for all-day monitoring. If you’re someone who wants or needs to monitor your heart rate throughout the day, many monitors make this task easy. Average heart rate monitors aren’t activity specific, meaning they can work all day long no matter what you’re doing.
Types of Heart Rate Monitors
The strap-based models use a small sensor that’s held in place by a strap that goes around either the chest or the waist. The chest-mounted type of heart monitor tends to be the most accurate. However, a downside is that chest monitors are somewhat cumbersome to get on and off. Most HR monitors of this kind require a separate app or fitness tracker in order to log results.
This type of heart rate monitor has been popular on fitness watches and smartwatches. Here, the sensor is built into the back of the watch or into a wrist strap that lacks other smartwatch capabilities. This type of exercise heart rate monitor is super easy to put on/take off and tends to work with a number of fitness apps. Depending on the sensor type, these HR monitors may be less accurate than their strap-based counterparts.
Heart rate monitors are sometimes a part of other consumer products like earbuds, smartphones, or fitness equipment. Although it depends on the type of sensor, these monitors tend to be less accurate since they aren’t placed right near the heart.
Top Heart Rate Monitor Brands
A market leader, Garmin was founded in 1989 and has been making great fitness and GPS products ever since. Currently headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, Garmin has forged a name for itself in the smartwatch and HRM spaces. Among their most popular products are the Vivosport, Vivoactive, and Forerunner heart rate monitors.
Founded in 1977, Polar has been making high-quality gear for over 40 years. Fusing technological advances with great aesthetics, Polar is a well-known brand of fitness devices. Headquartered in the aptly-named city of Lake Success, New York, their most popular product is the H10 HR monitor.
Headquartered in sunny Oxnard, California, Scosche started making great gear in 1980. Perhaps better known for their smart device accessories, they also make quality fitness equipment that often offers a no-nonsense set of features. Among their top products is the Rhythm24, one of the best HRMs out there.
Heart Rate Monitor Pricing
- $50-$100: At this price point, you’ll find a variety of heart rate monitors to suit your needs. Among the most common are strap-based monitors that can sync with apps or other tracking devices.
- $150-$300: This mid-range offers a number of standard fitness trackers and smartwatches that allow you to track your athletic activities. Most models are somewhat basic with standard features only.
- $450 and up: In this price range, you’ll find high-tech fitness trackers that include a number of great convenience features like advanced stats tracking and GPS capabilities.
The sensor is the part that detects the pulse. The accuracy of the sensor depends largely on the type. Chest monitors use electrodes that pick up the electric signals of the heartbeat, much like EKG machines. Wrist monitors use an optical sensor instead, measuring the blood flow to calculate your heart rate. This sensor type is common in specialty monitors like earbuds.
Chest Strap Features
Chest strap monitors have a couple of useful basic features. These include the strap itself that fits around your chest or waist and wireless connectivity to connect to a fitness app. This type of monitor can be less convenient to use than wrist-based ones and may be overkill for slower activities like yoga.
Wrist Strap Features
Wrist-based heart rate monitors are common as fitness trackers and smartwatches. As a result, they often have a bigger feature set than chest strap monitors. Generally, they’ll have Bluetooth/ANT+ connectivity, stopwatch/timer capabilities, GPS tracking, calorie and step counters, and speed monitoring. Most come with interchangeable wrist straps and syncing capabilities.
- Intended use: Consider how you want to use a heart rate monitor. If you’re just looking for everyday convenience, a wrist-based monitor is the way to go, thanks to the easy-to-use features. If you’re doing heart zone or HIIT training, where a high level of accuracy is preferable, then a chest-mounted sensor is the better option.
- Extra capabilities: Chest monitors are only useful for heart rate monitoring. If you’re looking for multi-functionality in your HR monitor, you’ll want to give smartwatches or fitness trackers a go. These have a number of extra features like apps to help monitor your fitness and lifestyle goals as well as the syncing capabilities common on smartphones.
Best Heart Rate Monitor Reviews & Recommendations
Best Heart Rate Monitor Overall: Garmin Forerunner 935 Running GPS Unit
- Premium GPS running/triathlon watch with wrist based...
- Offers advanced running and multisport Features in a...
- Provides elevation changes with a built in barometer;...
- Evaluates your training status to indicate if you’re...
- Provides advanced dynamics for running, cycling and...
One of the best fitness tracking heart monitors out there, the Garmin Forerunner 935 is a premium running smartwatch as well. It’s compatible with almost every smartphone and offers many amazing features that make it the ideal pick for serious athletes. Weighing only two ounces, it won’t get in your way, and the silicone wristband is comfortable, secure, and easy to adjust. Within the plentiful feature set are the typical time, speed, distance, heart rate, and calories-burned stats common to a lot of fitness trackers.
Where it sets itself apart is in the premium features it packs. These include a built-in barometer that tracks elevation changes and an electronic compass to help you keep your bearings. Another great feature is the advanced information for running, swimming, and cycling it provides, helping you to understand and improve your fitness game. It also evaluates your training status to check if you’re undertraining or overdoing it.
The main drawback to this otherwise stellar model is the price point. It’s an investment ideal for professional athletes or if you’re super serious about your training routine. The fitness-activity focus of the watch may also be limiting if you’re looking for an all-day fitness tracker that can monitor your heart rate for hours at a time.
Best Chest Strap Heart Monitor: Garmin HRM-Tri Heart Rate Monitor
- COMPACT AND COMFORTABLE - HRM-Tri is the smallest and...
- SWIM HEART RATE1 - Stores up to 20 hours of heart rate...
- RUNNING DYNAMICS2 - Provides feedback on running form...
- BATTERY LIFE - Lasts for 10 months (assuming 1 hour/day...
- Includes - HRM-Tri, manuals. Supports heart rate...
The Garmin HRM-Tri is compact, comfortable, and, best of all, affordable. It’s the smallest and lightest heart rate monitor that Garmin makes, and it’s designed to remain comfortable even during the longest training sessions. With a 10-hour battery life and a variety of different exercise tracking modes, this HRM is a great choice.
The strap and housing are made from water-resistant materials, making the whole device waterproof and ideal for swim training. It stores up to 20 hours of heart rate data from your workouts, syncing your stats to your device after each session. Another cool advantage is the real-time feedback you get by watching your heart rate on a monitor. With the running mode, it can also measure cadence and ground contact – all stats you can use to improve your training.
The main drawback to this monitor is some connectivity issues with certain fitness apps since it only works with a specific number of compatible apps. This might be an issue for you if you have a favorite fitness app that you want to continue using. Likewise, a Garmin fitness watch is needed for this monitor to work properly.
Best Heart Rate Monitor for the Money: Fitbit Charge 3
- Better measure calorie burn, understand resting heart...
- Choose from 15 plus exercise modes like run, bike,...
- Automatically record time spent in light, deep and rem...
- Swim proof and water resistant to 50 meters so you can...
- Stay connected to your day with everyday apps for...
The Fitbit Charge 3 is a great value pick that offers lots of cool features. Different exercise modes let you train to improve your fitness with real-time feedback. Smartphone connectivity means you’ll never miss a beat as well. The 15+ exercise modes include running, biking, circuit training, yoga, and much more, ensuring that whatever workout you do, you can accurately track your metrics.
This Fitbit also allows you to track and analyze your sleeping patterns, automatically recording the time spent in light, deep, and REM sleep stages. It also tracks other health metrics to help you monitor your daily wellbeing. The water-resistant design (up to 50 meters) is sleek and comfortable to wear. Another great feature allows you to connect to your smartphone’s GPS to track your pace and distance during outdoor activities.
Unlike other heart rate monitors, Charge 3 isn’t solely focused on athletic activities. You may find this too limiting in terms of accuracy and usability. Another major drawback to this model is that the software is still a bit buggy since it’s a new product. If you need an HRM soon, choosing another model might be the way to go.
Best Wearable Heart Rate Monitor: Bose SoundSport Pulse Wireless Headphones
- Built in heart rate sensor makes it easy to track your...
- Bluetooth and NFC pairing so you can connect to your...
- StayHear and Pulse tips provide a secure and stable fit...
- The Bose Connect app gives you real time heart rate...
- Works with popular fitness apps like MapMyRun,...
The Bose SoundSport Pulse wireless headphones let you listen to your favorite tunes while also tracking your heart rate. Compatible with most devices, these headphones pair using either Bluetooth or NFC and work with a number of popular fitness apps. That means you can keep using that favorite fitness app of yours without syncing problems.
Using the StayHear+ Pulse tips, the earbuds fit snugly and securely so they won’t fall out even during intense workouts. While you listen to music, a sensor in the left earbud measures your pulse with optical technology and transmits the data to your smartphone. This is a great tool to track your heart rate as a reference point during workouts.
The main downside to these headphones is the heart monitor isn’t as accurate as some other options, given the location of the sensor on the body. Compared to chest strap and wrist-based HRMs, this will give you more variable results. If you need accuracy, you’ll want to choose a different HRM.
Best Budget Heart Rate Monitor: Scosche Rhythm24 Waterproof HRM
- HYPER-ACCURATE - Patented optical sensor technology for...
- WORKS WITH VIRTUALLY ANY DEVICE - Great for use with...
- 24 HOUR BATTERY LIFE - Extended use rechargeable...
- CUSTOMIZABLE - Change HR zones and modes in the...
- INTERCONNECTED ARMBAND DESIGN - The Rhythm24 has an...
The Scosche Rhythm24 is a best-selling device that makes heart monitoring simple. Made to be only a heart rate monitor, this armband features a lot of tech for optimum results. It’s pretty accurate, thanks to the optical sensors, and works with almost any smartphone. An additional benefit is that it works with over 200 of the most popular fitness and training apps, so you can easily sync your data to your favorite app.
The most convenient feature of the Rhythm24 is its on-board recording capability that can sync up with your smartphone long after a workout. This means you don’t have to lug around your device if you don’t want to. It’s also very customizable, with a variety of different modes to suit your workout. The 29-hour battery life makes it ideal for casual users and serious athletes.
Being a wrist-based monitor, the results are often less accurate than a chest strap HRM. Depending on what you need out of a heart rate monitor, you might want to consider another option. This HRM works best if you’re a runner, biker, or swimmer.
Heart Rate Monitor Honorable Mention: Polar H10 Bluetooth HRM
- BUILT-IN MEMORY: Heart rate monitor stores 1 heart rate...
- GoPro COMPATIBLE: Pair your H10 Polar heart rate sensor...
- UPDATEABLE FIRMWARE: Heart rate monitor contains...
- ENHANCED BATTERY LIFE: 400 hours of operation time on a...
- COMFORTABLE FIT: Revised heart rate chest strap design...
One of the best heart rate monitors available, the Polar H10 is a chest-based HRM that’ll meet and exceed all your expectations. With its built-in memory drive, you can store your heart rate data and sync up with a compatible device later. The monitor is also compatible with the GoPro Hero 5 camera, allowing you to record your heart rate and overlay this data onto recorded video.
The battery life of this unit is stellar, with up to 400 hours of operation on a single charge. The firmware is updated regularly. It’s compatible with both iOS and Android devices and syncs easily to a number of fitness and training apps. The fit of the strap itself fits chests between 22 and 34 inches and is comfortable but secure, so it won’t budge during exercise.
Despite the overall accuracy and convenience of this heart monitor, it’s not the most ideal pick for swimming. The tracking results can vary when submerged in water if the strap isn’t tight enough. When used repeatedly, the seal around the battery compartment can wear out, potentially damaging the unit.
Tips for Getting the Most out of Your Heart Rate Monitor
Here are a couple of tips and tricks to help make your HRM experience better.
- In professional athletic activities or events, use a chest strap heart rate monitor for the best accuracy. This will give you better feedback on your performance than a wrist-based monitor can provide.
- You can use notifications on many fitness trackers and smartwatches to keep track of calls and messages, a feature that’s especially useful if you’re an avid multitasker.
- The wide variety of straps and wristbands available make it easy to find the perfect fit for a wrist-based heart rate monitor. Most devices come with a couple straps to try out.
- Wrist-based heart rate monitors should fit snugly against the skin for the best accuracy. This ensures that the optical sensor is always in contact with your skin and can read the blood flow underneath it accurately.
- Activity-specific settings on your HR monitor make it easy to keep track of other workout stats like speed, distance, and calories burned. Some multisport trackers can also record activity-specific stats like running or swimming cadence.
Heart Rate Monitor FAQs
Q: What’s the most accurate type of heart monitor?
A: Heart rate monitors that have a sensor on your chest are the most accurate. Commercial heart rate monitors tend to be fairly accurate, but for best results, choose one that has a chest strap. These deliver the most accurate results for your training needs.
Q: Will a heart rate monitor work with large equipment like a treadmill?
A: Sometimes, if the equipment can connect with the heart rate monitor. Keep in mind that some types of equipment like treadmills often have heart rate monitors built right in as well.
Q: Can a heart rate monitor work with my phone?
A: Most smartwatches and fitness trackers sync directly with a phone using a fitness or health app. Chest strap monitors typically don’t sync with smartphones but can work with running watches, bike computers, and more.
Q: How long does a heart rate monitor last before needing to recharge?
A: This depends on the type of heart rate monitor. Wearable tech like smartwatches and fitness trackers often have a battery life of around 12 hours, give or take. Chest strap monitors generally last longer before needing a recharge, since they’re not in use all day long.
Our pick for the best heart rate monitor is the Garmin Forerunner 935 Running GPS Unit. It’s one of the best fitness trackers out there and offers accurate heart rate stats. Light, comfortable, and packed with features, this is a great pick.
If you’re looking for a budget pick, the way to go is the Scosche Rhythm24, thanks to its simple and convenient design.
What’s your favorite heart rate monitor? Agree with our picks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!